I rode the bus to school for 3.5 of my 4 years of high school. They were undoubtedly the hardest years of my life thus far. Let me tell you the rest of my life has been no piece of cake, but these years trumped all of the others by far. The bus wasn’t the only place I was bullied, but it’s where most of it happened.
I was an awkward kid, and an even more awkward teen. I mean, it’s no surprise considering the kind of home I was raised in, and the constant upheaval of moving almost every
year. Making new friends when you’re 6 is a lot easier than making friends when your 13. People already have their people and they are happy with that. It didn’t help that I was socially awkward because I didn’t have very good role models. I had a strange identity crisis around 14 where I wore more black eyeliner than is safe or attractive for any person on earth. I thought that tighter was better and no one told me any different. I probably didn’t have the worlds best hygiene merely because it was never taught to me, and had no one to really tell me how to dress (nor the money to afford clothes that anyone else was wearing). Basically I didn’t do myself any favors, but neither did the adult role models I had in my life at the time.
There were two girls who sat behind me everyday on the bus. I’ll never forget their faces, or their names. On the good days they just called me names. You know, they said I was dirty, ugly, had no friends, was weird, didn’t know how to dress, touched my hair too much (probably because they made me so nervous), and the list goes on. On the bad days they threw the contents of their lunch into my seat, smeared their sandwiches in my hair, and got the rest of the kids who were too scared to stand up for anything to chime in with them. A few times they’d write me lovely messages in the steam of the bus window that said things like “NOBODY LIKES YOU” and “GO KILL YOURSELF”. It’s almost like they were reading my mind. Things like this happened every single day, for years.
When I was about 16, I was getting off of the bus one day and heard a guy who was about a year older than me whisper to one of his friends that he legitimately thought I was the ugliest person he’d ever seen in his life. The whispering helped it cut extra deep because I knew he wasn’t just saying it to be mean, but that he really genuinely believed it. I’ll never forget those moments- although I’m sure he has.
I tried not to mention it to anyone. It was too embarrassing at the time. I’d rather suffer in silence rather than tell someone and risk being laughed at or have the nasty comments validated. I felt completely alone.
I had a couple girlfriends who bravely sat with me on the bus, enduring the onslaught of hate sent my way everyday, and I will love them to the end of time for the support they gave me in that time of my life (and they needn’t speak a word of it- just be there). There are times when I think they are the only people who kept me alive during those years.
I’m telling you, bullying does something to your psyche. It never completely goes away. I was out with my husband and 18 month old daughter last week and the boy who I mentioned previously was at the same event with his 2 children. The mere sight of him made me take a deep breathe and ask my husband if we could move on to a different activity. I’m a relatively confident 27 year old woman who can stand up for herself and carry herself well in almost any social situation, but if you put me in a room with those same people 10 years after what happened I feel like an awkward, ugly, misfit 15 year old again. I just want to bury my face and pretend I’m not there.
Here are three things I have learned from my experience of bullying.
- Bullies have problems too. I’ve learned things about the people who treated me so badly all those years and how they had a butt load of issues themselves (whether at home or else where). It’s no excuse, but it helps to understand that. When you’re 15 you don’t care why they are doing it, you just want it to stop.
- Bystanders don’t hate you. They’re just too afraid of the result if they stand up to a bully on your behalf, or just too indifferent to realize the intense psychological impact it’s having you on. It’s taken me years to get this, and I personally have to evaluate my actions everyday to make sure I am not standing by an injustice in fear of my own mistreatment (adults can suck too).
- Friends of the bullied are brave, like really brave. It’s scary standing up, and standing beside someone who is being treated so badly, fearing that at any moment you could be their target. Cherish those who are your people, they’re the ones who are going to go places in life. They are the ones you will remember the most.
A note to bullies:
Just stop. You need help. We know. You’ve got issues too. We get it. But deal with your own bologna instead of projecting it onto those around you. You aren’t making yourself feel any better and in the long term you’ll only create toxic relationships and make your situation worse. Go to someone who can help you through your issues and everyone will be happier. People don’t actually like you more when you treat other people like crap, they’re just terrified of being treated the same- don’t mistake those people for your friends.
A note to people who don’t bully and don’t get bullied:
What an incredible position you have found yourself in! You are one of the lucky few and you have more power than you could possibly imagine. The power you give a bully when you laugh along or say nothing at all is greater than you could think. But the power you give a person who is being bullied when you befriend them, or stick up for them could mean the difference of their life. You might be the only person in a day who makes them feel like a person. So just do it. Put your fears aside and be kind. Man up, stand up, and literally go out of your way to invite the weirdest kid at your school to sit with you at lunch. Don’t patronize them, just treat them like you’d treat any friend. I’m telling you they will probably never forget you for it.
A note to people are who are being bullied:
It gets better. I know you’ve probably heard that before. You don’t care about the future at the moment, you just care about right now because you can’t think past tomorrow and the torture you will endure for what seems like forever. But there is an end and it comes sooner than you think. You get to become an adult soon, pretty much do whatever you want, and spend time with people who lift you up and make you feel human again. You get to decide who you are going to be and what persona you are going to emit to the world. It might feel like your wearing a neon “loser” sign wherever you go, but I promise you’re the only one who sees it. It’s a process. You aren’t just going to graduate and feel whole again, but you’ll figure who you are and become totally okay with that. Those people who make you feel like garbage will cross your mind less and less over the years until one day you’ll remember them- and even feel sorry for them. You are a wonderful creation who is beautiful, unique, treasured, and perfect the way you are. If it feels like no one appreciates you right now, one day they will. You’ll realize the bullies were the crazy ones. If you’re a weirdo like me, you’ll learn to embrace the weird and people around you will love you because of it.
Finally, a note to my bullies:
I forgive you. Legit. I do. I couldn’t go on if I hadn’t. I’ve seen you in adult life. I’ve served you at the restaurant I worked at, I’ve seen you at community events, I’ve worked with you in the school system even. You’ve attended my church. Some of you are doing just fine and some aren’t. I can tell by the way you look at me that you remember. You probably don’t remember the details like I do but you remember. Although I may have been on the brink of suicide at one point, I’ve come through that and I’m stronger now than I ever thought I could be. So in a way, I suppose should say thank you. I don’t know if you feel guilty, or empowered, or just indifferent. I know who I am though and that is what matters. I am someone who treats people fairly and kindly and wants the people around me to know how incredibly wonderful they are. I sleep well at night because in my heart I want good things for the people around me, even you. It’s better than being angry, I promise. If you’ve changed then well done. Being a teenager sucked for everyone, I hope you teach your children well and raise them to be kind to the world around them.
People who are friends of mine might wonder why I share such private and frankly embarrassing details of my life. If you’re wondering if it’s scary for me then I say yes, sure it is. The thing that overpowers my fear of judgment or mockery is the power of transparency. Don’t we all dream of realness? Aren’t we a little sick of our “Pinterest Perfect” lives and our newsfeed highlights of a life worth lusting after? We’re all regular people who have moments of awesomeness and moments of gut wrenching pain. It is the human condition to want to be accepted, to be loved, to feel important. I think that by showing our flaws, our icky bits, and sharing our pains we give one another the authority to be confident and who we are and be happy with our own paths. I really hope you are kind. I hope that you treat people who are the most different from you, as if they were not different at all. It feels much better than the alternative.
This Wednesday February 24th is Pink Shirt Day. You might have heard of it. Essentially, you’re being asked to wear a pink shirt to support the “ANTI-bullying” movement. How did this start you ask? In 2007 there was a grade 9 boy who was teased for wearing a pink shirt to school (in NS, Canada). A couple older brave students decided this was ridiculous. So in a stand against bullies they deiced that they would wear pink shirts one day to show him their support. The gathered their friends and altogether there were 50 teens, standing in solidarity against bullying. I can tell you this probably changed the kid’s life. What a cool story right? Now every year, in schools and workplaces all across Canada, and even other countries, people wear pink shirts on pink shirt day to show that they are against bullying. I’m asking you to do this. Sure, you could donate to the cause as well, but just by simply wearing a pink shirt you are showing anyone who is or was ever bullied that the bullies are the minority- not them. You are standing up for them without saying a word.
If you haven’t ever been bullied than be thankful. If you think bullying has never affected you, you’re wrong. People are just too afraid to talk about it. Your best friend might have been bullied, your kids might be being bullied right now, or your siblings could be bullied without your knowledge. It’s scary and awkward to talk about so nobody does it. Let’s take the veil off of bullying and give power to the voiceless. Let’s stand up for those who are, and who have been treated unfairly. We all deserve to feel like we belong. We all deserve to feel loved. We all deserve to fit in. Put on a pink shirt and do something nice this week- it feels good.
These are the girls who kept me sane, your everyday heroes, I’ll love you forever and always. And that’s me on the far right –>